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The House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee’s final report into the pensions ‘freedom and choice’ reforms makes a number of welcome recommendations geared towards member engagement, education and empowerment.
As an industry, we know that informed members make informed decisions but we also know that effective engagement doesn’t just happen – what is needed is a well-defined strategy incorporating a clear understanding of where schemes and members are now, where they want to be, and the tools and support to help them get there.
Analysis of where the scheme is now and the choices members have already made is critical to shaping objectives and strategies for the future. This starts with analysis of quantitative data from the administration provider and the employer to gain a detailed picture of the characteristics of your membership, and the wider workforce if possible.
To supplement the quantitative analysis, trustees and employers should also consider obtaining information on the views, attitudes and likely behaviours of their scheme’s members. This could help to gain an understanding of:
- what they value about the scheme
- their ability to make investment decisions
- how they intend to take their retirement benefits (for those approaching retirement)
- their views on digital tools
- their preferred type and style of communications
Within their new DC Code, the Pensions Regulator placed significant emphasis on gauging member views, particularly to inform the design of default investment strategies and the assessment of value for members.
- When reviewing the scheme’s default in the new world of pension flexibility, the scheme may want to ask members over the age of 55 about their preferences in addition to analysing the decisions of members who have already taken their benefits.
- Seek feedback to check whether existing investment information is sufficient for members to make informed choices.
Help is available - engagement services is a growing sector within the wider employee benefit and pensions landscape. Specialist communication and engagement consultants can help build a strategy that works, developing plans, communication materials and messaging that are bespoke to your members.
How you communicate is critical to success – the more involved an individual feels, the more likely they are to engage and take action. A variety of mediums should be considered including written materials (generic and personalised), webinars, videos, face-to-face communications and digital solutions, such as email alerts and an online member/employee portal.
The majority of employees now absorb and engage with information digitally, with the use of technology extending to all ages, including the older generation. This trend will only continue as users expect and transact ‘on the go’. To date, the world of pensions has been slow to respond. However, as technology becomes more ingrained in people’s lives, it will become expected that complex financial decisions can be translated into an app and changes made at the click of a smartphone. Users will expect a ‘retail experience’, delivered through technology, whether it is looking at retirement planning or buying from Amazon.
A digital experience allows you to interact with an unlimited amount of people, irrespective of location. It can be accessed ‘any time, any place, anywhere’. Technology based engagement is scalable, cost effective, dynamic and interactive. Whether your membership is clustered in the same building or spread across the globe, online access means people can access and interact with their benefits platform at a time to suit them.
Engagement increases where the message is relevant to the members. Communication should be personalised, with key messages that are targeted to that member’s needs, objectives and priorities. Having an online solution will help to personalise communications further - communications can be automatic, delivered to the individual at key times to give the message the best chance of being engaged with and acted upon. For example, if a member is about to enter the de-risking phase of a lifestyle investment strategy, the right communications can nudge them to start thinking about how they might want to take the money out and whether they might want to consider shaping their investments differently.
Engagement is an ongoing cycle
Engagement isn’t a ‘one and done’. To achieve the best outcome for members that you can, you should do your analysis, decide on a strategy, document in a plan, deliver it, gather feedback, measure success, learn and monitor – effective engagement is an ongoing cyclical process.
This article previously appeared in Professional Pensions.